Evidence of Nervous System Sensitization in Commonly Presenting and Persistent Painful Tendinopathies: A Systematic Review

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2015 Nov;45(11):864-75. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2015.5895. Epub 2015 Sep 21.


Study Design Systematic review. Objectives To elucidate if there is sensitization of the nervous system in those with persistent rotator cuff (shoulder), lateral elbow, patellar, and Achilles tendinopathies. Background Tendinopathy can be difficult to treat, and persistent intractable pain and dysfunction are frequent. It is hypothesized that induction or maintenance of persistent pain in tendinopathy may be, at least in part, based on changes in the nervous system. Methods The PRISMA guidelines were followed. Relevant articles were identified through a computerized search in Embase, PubMed, and Web of Science, followed by a manual search of reference lists of retained articles. To be eligible, studies had to include quantitative sensory testing and evaluate individuals diagnosed with a persistent tendinopathy of the rotator cuff (shoulder), lateral elbow, patella, or Achilles tendon. Methodological quality assessment was evaluated with the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale. Results In total, 16 full-text articles met the criteria for inclusion, of which the majority were case-control studies with heterogeneous methodological quality. No studies on Achilles tendinopathy were found. Mechanical algometry was the predominant quantitative sensory testing used. Lowered pressure pain threshold was observed across different tendinopathies at the site of tendinopathy, as well as at other sites, the latter being suggestive of central sensitization. Conclusion Although more research on sensory abnormalities is warranted, it appears likely that there is an association between persistent tendon pain and sensitization of the nervous system. This evidence is primarily from studies of upper-limb tendinopathy, and caution should be exercised with inference to lower-limb tendinopathy. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2015;45(11):864-875. Epub 21 Sep 2015. doi:10.2519/jospt.2015.5895.

Keywords: athletic injuries; central sensitization; chronic pain; pain threshold.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Central Nervous System Sensitization*
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology
  • Chronic Pain / rehabilitation
  • Humans
  • Nociceptive Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain Measurement / methods
  • Pain Threshold / physiology
  • Tendinopathy / physiopathology*
  • Tendinopathy / rehabilitation*
  • Tendons / innervation*